Problem of guns in medieval fantasy

Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Aldarion, Aug 1, 2019.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Member

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    1) I define medieval era by existence of feudalism and similar systems where economy is based on personally free but land-locked peasants - so Roman coloni, Ottoman timariot system, European feudalism, Byzantine thematic system. Basically, you do not have slavery, but you do not have urban industrial society either.
    2) Personally, I live in Croatia. When it comes to my setting, it is based on variety of inspirations (9th century Roman Empire, 15th century Hungary-Croatia and Holy Roman Empire, 15th century Poland, 15th century Ottoman Empire etc.).
     
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  2. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    Conscription wasn't invented only after the firearm. The Anglo saxon ferd was essentially a conscripted army, armed cheaply and sent out against the other side's poorly armed peasantry. It's a natural consequence of expanding and centralised power; as more manpower becomes available, running what's pretty much aristocratic special ops scuffles rapidly becomes a really bad idea because you enemy can simply outnumber you two-to-one.

    It's certainly the case the firearms helped the development of standing armies along, but I think the parallel agricultural advancements of the renaissance made a huge difference also. The big issue with the ferd was that if your peasants are fighting and dying, no one's harvesting the crops, which means famine, which means no army and suddenly you're some French guy's vassal.
     
  3. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    also you definitely did have slavery in the feudal/medieval period
     
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  4. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Supporter Contributor

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    UOTE="grayj0265, post: 1794288, member: 91148"]As I always like to say, you can do what every you want in your story. Although I do have a couple of questions for you. What do you considered medieval? That is a very specific time period from some, while others, not so much. I googled it to see it ranges from 476-1492. What part of the world are you in? The only two place (if I am correct, may be wrong) would be east Asia, or Europe. Don't forget as I have has pointed out correctly, Guns didn't become effective until later, you could do the same.[/QUOTE]
    It means different things to different people, especially in the context of fictions. For me, I'd say plenty of swords and kingdoms but not very many machines.

    Indeed, but as guns developed, they gradually became more effective than the alternatives, to the point where a conscripted army would be cheaper, easier to raise, and more numerous than the alternatives. We saw cavalry and such up until the first world war, but within a few hundred years, firearms were the dominant weapon used by European armies. It's about quantity more than quality -- even during the Napoleonic era, firearms were rather innacurrate and unreliable. "Don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes" and all.

    RE: Tolkien -- technological development actually features as an important factor in the Lord of the Rings. Isengard and all that. Saruman:s orcs were chopping down trees to feed the furnaces of his weapon manufacturing complex, right? GoT not as much, but they do have explosives (wildfire) which is a newish technology for them if I recall correctly.
     
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  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    The irony being that technology then evolved past the point of being simple to use and made conscript armies obsolete at least for the western powers
     
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  6. Aldarion

    Aldarion Member

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    True. IIRC, up until early firearms, semi-professional armies had huge advantage over levies, to the point that even Western feudal states eventually transitioned to semi-professional banner system. And Romans, of course, always used professional (legions, tagmata) or semi-professional (themata) forces.

    Technological development features in Lord of the Rings, but it is not a major theme. Feanor is a great innovator, Numenoreans apparently develop rockets, goblins in mountains have gunpowder as does Saruman, Sauron uses a version of Greek Fire (which he may or may not have acquired from Numenoreans)... but the thing is, these are all temporary developments. Primary theme of Lord of the Rings is one of decline, as knowledge is lost, and any such innovations are around only for a time, and have limited impact.

    Where technology is thematically important is one of relationship between man and nature. Elvish technology is complementary with nature - lembas and so on. Sauron's, and late-day Numenorean, technology goes against nature (see Scouring of Shire for another example). It shows, essentially, the evils of industrialization. Good guys use technology on artisan, craftsmanship basis, which is inefficient but allows one's personality to shine through. Bad guys use technology on industrial basis - individually much inferior, but much greater in volume (and with much greater environmental impact).
     
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  7. grayj0265

    grayj0265 Member

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    First, I need to correct what I was trying to say here.

    As I always like to say, you can do what every you want in your story. Although I do have a couple of questions for you. What do you considered medieval? That is a very specific time period from some, while others, not so much. I googled it to see it ranges from 476-1492. What part of the world are you in? The only two place (if I am correct, may be wrong) would be east Asia, or Europe. Don't forget as others (not I) have has pointed out correctly, Guns didn't become effective until later, you could do the same.

    Second, I did some more research on this, because you got me really interested in this. The first gun used was in 1364, however it sounds like they did not become effective for personal use until 1750 (if you wanted to kill someone else.) Hunting wise, not too sure about.

    And this really got me thinking, are you in a real world situation (using real locations and countries) or in a mythic land? If you are in a mythic land, you can do anything you want. You could have a shield that becomes bullet proof, thus guns are no longer effective. You could have witches and wizards. You could make the gun ineffective that way.
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2019
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  8. Aldarion

    Aldarion Member

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    I already explained that - essentially a period where feudalism and similar setups are dominant socioeconomic systems. In Croatia, serfdom was formally ended in 1848., so Middle Ages would end then. But for the most part, I do use period you have listed.

    It is fantasy, and yes, a mythic land, but I do not want impact of magic to be too obvious. That being said, it is an option I have been considering as of recently:
     
  9. LazyBear

    LazyBear Active Member

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    You can limit population, land area, rationalism/heresy or transportation to slow down scientific progress. Alternatively make access to explosive materials scarce and expensive so that only kings can afford to use a musket. Maybe their sulfur mines ran out of resources ages ago and some rifles are melted down to make swords instead. Castles will then withstand most of the weapons being used because cannons would be a huge waste of explosives.

    These are the key-points that define the eras from a practical perspective:
    * Late medieval times started with pikemen and crossbowmen obsoleting knights, so don't rely too much on knights when there's a logical reason for not fighting superior counter weapons.
    * The renaissance started with rationalism when the Illuminati started to fight against religion as a whole. The new era of exploration and curiosity introduced marines and privateers while the concept of democracy was further developed by trying many failures. Castles had to be very thick and required advanced masonry. Our castle's bastion used lots of stone rubble on the inside as an indestructible counter weight held together by gravity against cannon balls hitting the hard surface. The holes for shooting to the outside are a lot smaller when using muskets instead of crossbows, so it you decide to have muskets it will be a dark and cramped space for the defending soldiers.
    * The industrial era started using dynamite used for mines, so don't let them discover anything that can blast mountains or castle walls into pieces.
     
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  10. Aldarion

    Aldarion Member

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    Yeah, that might work, though I may yet opt for magic route I mentioned.

    From some reading I've done on Byzantine military, cataphracts were apparently able to smash through normal spears, so that Byzantines had to use extra-thick spears (menavlon) to counter them. This suggests that cavalrymen in full plate would be even more capable of standing up to infantry pikes, as while lamellar was made to resist missile fire, plate armour was made to resist impact of a lance. Now, infantry can have a much denser formation, so if formation is deep enough - maybe 8 ranks deep - cavalry charge will smash into it and be brought to halt, at which point cavalrymen are vulnerable. Which means that in order to break ranks of pikes, you have to cycle cavalry into repeated charges - first rank charges, breaks lances, and retreats, at which point second rank charges, and so on. This requires significant training, but is doable - though probably not with feudal knights (which is lucky then that I do not have typical feudal knights in my setting, other than maybe one secondary country). In fact, heavy shock cavalry survived until firearms became good enough to make cavalry charge useless, meaning that they were not made obsolete by pike and crossbow, even if their tactical options were restrained by these weapons.

    And yeah, I have opted for "no gunpowder" route.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2019
  11. Katibel

    Katibel Member

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    Hm. I've never had a problem introducing technology to my fantasy settings. I figure a different world would have a different timeline of events anyway.

    When was the spinet invented? 1500's? If I want it invented in an 1100's themed setting while eyeglasses don't appear until that particular world's 1700's-ish setting, I don't see how that's too farfetched to be disbelieved. Technological advances would all be determinate on circumstances (including the geographical setting / resources available to the playing actors across time).

    Not to mention, what do wars erase? Martial technology increases in times of great conflict, while domestic technologies are often buried and forgotten only to organically resurface years later (while the martial advances might vanish).

    Then, what about spicing up physics? A material that ignites upon a certain strength of impact (perhaps by another particular substance) but is otherwise non-combustible would limit the types of technology that could be invented. Were that a concern.

    I suppose I don't see the harm in it. The introduction of guns doesn't have to signal the swift progression of any more technological advancements unless the nations / tribes / etc. who are involved have also made advancements elsewhere. Otherwise, it's easy for the same types of inventions to spring up and be lost repeatedly throughout time, without any advancement, for thousands of years.
     
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  12. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I'm probably missing a lot form this thread, but....

    The 'west' still uses conscript armies, like Germany and, ironically, Isreal ('western' being subjective), or have only recently stopped using them. WW1 was a mostly conscript conflict, with few totally volunteer armies. WW2 was similar. The last American conscript war was Vietnam.
     
  13. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    I wasn't aware the bundeswehr used conscription - but the UK doesn't, nor does America - both have established professional armies augmented by volunteer units. However my point was you couldn't have untrained conscripts using say a Reaper drone
     
  14. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Bowmen weren't snipers. They fired en mass, just like early firearms. It doesn't take long to train a bowman to fire as part of a volley. Hell, you can teach kids to shoot targets at summer camp. My brother is a re-enactment archer and he didn't find it very hard to get pretty good pretty fast. For the battle of Agincourt it was easy and cheap to hire masses of archers for the English army because it was law for all men to be proficient with the use of the bow in case of war. They won because the french invested heavily in shorter ranged crossbows. When the flintlock was invented around 1610, firearms pretty much replaced bows in Europe by the 16th century. In less than 200 years after Agincourt, bows were rarely used in combat, even though their effective range was far more than early fire-arms. One reason for this is that armour was getting better at stopping arrows, while a shot could penetrate cavalry armour much easier. Armoured cavalry could easily take out your archers. A mass of muskets was far more effective against an armoured cavalry charge than arrows. Another is that a firearm can have a Bayonet. A bow cannot. Your soldier can now fight at range and close combat. No more pike-men protecting archers. 2 in 1! Another is the noise. A BOOM is pretty scary. A swoosh is not. Since most battles would end with a routing of the opposition, not a massacre, the fright factor was critical both against men and horses.

    Guns being cannons, of coarse, were already a common and important part of armies in the middle-ages.

    Second, there was mass conscription long before firearms. Babylonians used conscription in 1750 BC. I believe it was Alexander who first professionalised an army. Genghis Khan was famous for forcing men under his rule to either join his army or die. It was actually around the time of small-arms becoming rapidly adopted that conscription declined, only to come back in the west through the French Revolution, but only partly. The British Army, for example, during the Napoleonic wars, did not use conscription. It was ww1 that brought it back into fashion.
     
  15. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    You couldn't have untrained anyone. But trained conscripts certainly could. Conscript does not = untrained or ineffective. They're not partisans.

    My mistake, Germany has now suspended it. But other 'western' nations still using conscription:
    Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Israel, Lithuania, Norway (by law not practice), Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey (west though?), and the Ukraine.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
  16. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    yeah but conscripts are either in in time of war, or in for a two year national service... you don't get to be a competent trained professional soldier in two years
     
  17. Aldarion

    Aldarion Member

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    Conscript =/= untrained. They will be less trained on average, but that does not mean that you cannot have highly trained specialists (though in that case most likely option is a mix of conscripts and professionals).
     
  18. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    actually it does in a modern army because you can't create a highly trained specialist in the couple of years you have your national service conscripts for... wartime is admittedly different

    The soviets who did have conscription had exactly this problem with their NCOs since enlisted men in the red army were only in for two years which wasnt enough time to create a seasoned sergeant... this led to a situation where lieutenants in the red army were doing many of the jobs that an NCO does in the Uk or US which basically downgraded their military effectiveness.

    the limits of conscription were also evident in the soviet weaponry, with the basic arm being the AK47 which isn't terribly accurate or that great a rifle in general, but is easy to use and only requires basic maintenance which was easily taught
     
  19. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Conscription effects motivation, not skill.
     
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2019
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    true but skill is built by time in service - and two years and out isn't enough to build a professional specialist
     
  21. Selbbin

    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    In contrast to popular fiction, mortality rates during battle were generally low. I think about 3.5% per year of a combat force that sees battle. Even as far back as Greek warfare where the farmers would set off to hang out with the boys for a few weeks. They either showed up in force to negotiate or pushed to route the enemy. Exhaustion led to more defeats than slaughter. Bloodbaths did occur sometimes but they were notable, and now famous, exceptions.
     
  22. NiallRoach

    NiallRoach Contributor Contributor

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    When your entire economy is agrarian, losing 3.5% of your able bodied men is pretty damn significant.
    It also doesn't change the fact that your prime campaign season is harvest, and you need those crops bringing in for the Winter
     
  23. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    There are a huge number of factors involved here. For starters just because human history has played out the way it has it doesn’t necessarily mean it couldn’t have gone in an entirely different direction with gunpowder weapons being dropped. For starters the major driving factor for technological and intellectual advances comes about due to the free and easy exchange of ideas. No doubt someone has mentioned the Chinese and gunpowder above as a point to express how the resources can be present yet the idea, and/or know how, may not.

    Then there are possible dark ages or imagined dystopian futures where previous tech becomes more of a perceived myth than a reality lost. Bronze casting, artistic ability and many other things were pretty much lost at the collapse/decline of the Roman empire. In a fantasy world of possible cataclysms, political isolation and periods of peace it doesn’t take much imagination to see how gunpowder weapons may not advance much at all - given that other means of fashioning long range engagements could be used (by magical/other worldly means).

    If its your world then make the powder hard to produce and/or of greater rarity. In such cases military personnel armed with these weapons would be few and far between; only those of ‘noble blood’ and/or the correct ‘mental constitution’ able to operate/afford them. Remember warfare relies mostly on strategy and resource management, so if bullets had to be made of gold I doubt you’d see anything like the modern soldiers we have today - not to mention you can easily invent your own metallic elements without having to rely on the Earthly “iron” or “bronze”.

    Abandoning Earthly tech and materials doesn’t make the world less believable.
     
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  24. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    Well, there is a difference. My brother was also an active re-enactment archer (in fact, he headed up archery in the SCA's West Kingdom). It's true that one can get somewhat proficient with a 30- to 40-pound bow* shooting at distances of forty yards or so, but medieval archers were pulling 100+ pound bows at targets up to a hundred yards away. That takes more training than you'd get at a summer camp. You're right, though, in that the longbow was more effective in volleys, firing at target-rich environments where if you didn't kill they guy you were aiming for, you had a pretty good chance of killing the guy next to him. The terrain at Agincourt, where he French cavalry forces were bottle-necked at one end of the field of battle, was one of the keys to the English success.

    An interesting factoid is that during the American Revolutionary War, there was some concern that there might not be enough muskets for the Continental Army, since most of these were made in Europe. Benjamin Franklin proposed bringing back the longbow, but admitted that there probably wouldn't be enough time to properly train the army in its use.

    You are quite right. Range was not a critical factor, though; both types had approximately the same capacity there. (In fact, the most powerful crossbows had the edge there.) The real advantage at Agincourt, according to some, was that a longbowman could loose ten arrows in the time a crossbowman could get off one bolt, or two if he was fast. (I've tested this myself in SCA speed rounds).

    You're right about that, too. But a swoosh is one thing, and a mass volley is another. When you loose a hundred arrows, there's a tremendous, unearthly howling that fills the air. We've done this at some SCA shoots, and the sound is terrifying. Kenneth Branaugh's Henry V captures this nicely (at least in the theater, when we first saw it ... probably not so much when heard through your television speakers).

    The point has already been made that what made the musket, and later the rifle, superior to the longbow was that you could train somebody in its use in a minimum of time. It really didn't make a difference whether that somebody was a draftee or not. It was the repeating rifle, which could match a good archer's destructive power, speed, and accuracy, that put the final nail in the combat bow's coffin, in my opinion.

    *I don't know what re-enactment group your brother was participating in, but the SCA forbids bows with draw weights higher than thirty pounds, or its equivalent with crossbows, in combat scenarios.
     
  25. Nariac

    Nariac Contributor Contributor

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    Even Tolkien didn't stop technology, though. In Lord of the Rings, the wizard Saruman invents gunpowder and uses genetic engineering to make better Orcs.
     
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